Fight for seat at head of the table: Obama

Obama asked grad class of Barnard College to stand up for their rights in life and "fight for a seat at the head of the table".

Last Updated: May 15, 2012, 22:33 PM IST

New York: Hailing the contribution of his mother and wife in shaping his life, US President Barack Obama asked the graduating class of the prestigious all women`s Barnard College here to stand up for their rights in life and "fight for a seat at the head of the table".

"Today, women are not just half this country, you are half its workforce. More and more women are out-earning their husbands. You are more than half of our college graduates, and master`s graduates and PhDs. So you have got us outnumbered," Obama said on Monday in his commencement address at Columbia University`s Barnard College.

Addressing nearly 600 female graduates, Obama said to a thundering applause that his first piece of advice to them is, "Don`t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table".

Obama said besides his mother, wife Michelle too has been a pillar of strength for him, taking care of his daughters Malia and Sasha while he is on the road and instilling good values in them.

"I met a woman who was assigned to advise me on my first summer job at a law firm. And she gave me such good advice that I married her. And Michelle and I gave everything we had to balance our careers and a young family. But let`s face it, no matter how enlightened I must have thought myself to be, it often fell more on her shoulders when I was traveling, when I was away.

"And the reason Michelle had the strength to juggle everything, and put up with me and eventually the public spotlight, was because she, too, came from a family of folks who didn`t quit," he added.

He said the women of the country should not compromise with the way things are but instead challenge what they feel is wrong and unjust and strive to change things for the better.

"Don`t accept somebody else`s construction of the way things ought to be. It`s up to you to right wrongs. It`s up to you to point out injustice. It`s up to you to hold the system accountable and sometimes upend it entirely. It`s up to you to stand up and to be heard, to write and to lobby, to march, to organise, to vote. Don`t be content to just sit back and watch," he added.

"How far your leadership takes this country, how far it takes this world -- well, that will be up to you. You`ve got to want it. It will not be handed to you," Obama said.

The President spoke about the struggles his mother faced to make ends meet and ensure he and his sister get a good education, adding that he has had the "good fortune" of being the husband, father and son of some "strong, remarkable women".
"I grew up as the son of a single mom who struggled to put herself through school and make ends meet. She had marriages that fell apart; even went on food stamps at one point to help us get by. But she didn`t quit. And she earned her degree, and made sure that through scholarships and hard work, my sister and I earned ours," the President said.

Obama advised the young women that they should "never underestimate the power of your example" and persevere to achieve their goals in life.

"Nothing worthwhile is easy. No one of achievement has avoided failure -- sometimes catastrophic failures. But they keep at it. They learn from mistakes. They don`t quit".

He said as the women step out into the world, they will face challenges like "whether you`ll be able to earn equal pay for equal work; whether you’ll be able to balance the demands of your job and your family; whether you’ll be able to fully control decisions about your own health".
But they should embrace a "defiant, can-do spirit" to fight the odds.

"After decades of slow, steady, extraordinary progress, you are now poised to make this the century where women shape not only their own destiny but the destiny of this nation and of this world," he said adding that his wife`s advice to them would be that a woman can be both stylish and powerful.

PTI